A Pastor’s Response to “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage”

The following is a guest post by John Rush, a pastor friend in the Smoky Mountains of TN who wrote the following to one of his church members who had asked about the Newsweek article by Lisa Miller.  This is a good example of a faithful pastor discharging his duty to his flock.

Dear B…

I read the Newsweek piece “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” (December 15, 2008) by Lisa Miller.

John Meacham, Newsweek’s editor rightfully called it a “cover essay.”  It definitely was not a news article, but full-throated advocacy for a political position.  Advocacy that made front cover status.  I thought I’d share a general response with you–things that came to mind as I read the article.

Meacham informs us about the motivation for this article:

“The impetus for the project came… from California and the successful passage of Proposition 8 which seeks to ban gay marriage.”

Miller, Meachum, and Newsweek have one motivation–to garner enough votes to change laws.  (Keep this in mind when reading her article.) Miller wants to discredit the Scriptures, yet harness them at the same time in order to justify gay marriage–hence “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.”

But to accomplish her goal,  She has to undermine the Bible even as she appeals to it.

So she approaches the Scriptures with a certain philosophy:

1. There is no inherent meaning in the Bible.

Miller uses phrases like “the Bible is a living document” or that it has “throwaway lines.”

Miller writes like this because today’s readers are taught that you cannot really find an author’s intent in any text.  The only meaning that a text has is the one the reader brings to the text.
This is why Miller can say, “We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can
read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future.”  — Translation:  “What the Bible says about marriage is unacceptable, but we can distill ‘universal truths’ from Scripture.  And it is amazing that those ‘universal truths’ just happen to be the same as our liberal, radical political philosophy.”

Don’t gloss over the phrase “We can read it for…”  By this, Miller means she can read into it for any particular position she wants to support.

2. There is no inherent authority in the Bible.

First, because God didn’t write it.

In solidarity with Lisa Miller, John Meacham wrote from “The Editor’s Desk” that to believe that the Scriptures come from God and have any authority for us “is the worst kind of fundamentalism.” Case closed.

By using the “deplorable word” fundamentalism, one ipso facto obliterates his opponents–right?

Fundamentalism is used for maximum insult-power.  By the convenience of equivocation, Meacham gets to associate two completely different sets of people:  evangelical Christians and radical Muslims.  This kind of illogic is standard fare in the press.  Miller uses another pejorative: literalists.

Miller also discounts Biblical authority by relying on Alan Segal to support her position.  She writes that Segal rejects a supernatural origin of Scripture:  “But as Segal says, if you believe the Bible was written by men and not handed down… by God,” then one has reason to discount the created order recorded in Genesis.

If God didn’t write the Bible, of course the Bible cannot have ultimate authority.

Second, because the Bible is morally suspect.

A.  Miller says, “The Bible endorses slavery…”  So-called “progressives” love to talk this way so that the moral authority of Scripture is called into question.

The slavery issue is a huge topic.  I agree with Al Mohler: “the Bible does not sanction race-based chattel slavery as practiced in many parts of the world, America included, throughout history. The Bible does seek to regulate slavery, but there is no way that slavery, gender, and sexuality can be linked as equal issues in terms of biblical interpretation.”  For more thoughts about this, you can also go here.

Lisa Miller frames her writing to paint traditionalists as equivalents to pro-slavery and morally backward Americans.  She also uses the language of oppression when she says, “All the religious rhetoric, it seems, has been on the side of the gay-marriage opponents, who use Scripture as the foundation for their objections.”  So her article tries to gain a little more “market share” of the religious rhetoric.  Could the difference in “religious rhetoric” be because the Bible is so clear on God’s intent for marriage?

Aside from a reminder about the deep, biblical roots of America’s abolition movement, I admit that Christians who used the Bible to promote slavery have done great damage to the Faith.  (How many ways must America suffer for her sins?)  But I contend that the Gospel laid the foundations for undoing slavery in a world of universal slavery.  The fact that Americans in the past used the Bible to advocate slavery doesn’t mean that the Bible has no authority.

We can say people were wrong about the Bible, or people misunderstood the Bible.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong.

Actually, the Christian Abolitionists had a clear Biblical consistency that actually reversed the trends of history!

B.  Miller also reminds us that Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon were polygamists.

I can only respond with “So what?”

According to God’s created order in Genesis 1-2, the patriarchs were wrong. And God was gracious.  God’s grace is all over the Old Testament.  He was calling people out of moral and spiritual darkness–a process that takes centuries, and is still ongoing.

We must remember that much of the Bible is descriptive, not prescriptive.   Part of Bible interpretation is to discern the two categories.

Just because the Bible records “the way it was” does not mean it is prescribing “the way it should be.”

The moral failings of Bible characters does not negate God’s moral will.

This also applies to the issues of divorce, an issue Miller uses to her favor.

Yes, many Christians have divorced.  Yes, the church in America has lost its way in standing against divorce.  But these failings do not give any religious justification for gay marriage.  If anything, these failings show us that we need to strengthen our marriages and abandon our hypocrisies.  God is gracious, but repentance is still the Christian’s calling.

Also, I want again to point out Miller’s philosophy of reading.  Notice what she says about traditionalists:  We “use Scripture as the foundation” of our objections.  She seems convinced that we use Scripture the same way she is using Scripture:  As a vessel to fill with any meaning we want.  It is a foreign idea to Miller that the Scriptures may actually be
communicating something to learn.

Now…  If the Bible has no authority for ethical reasoning, I must ask Lisa Miller “Where does the concept of ‘right and wrong” come from?

I suspect she’d say that society determines right and wrong.

But didn’t California’s society just determine “right and wrong” with Proposition 8?  Using society as a basis for ethics, Miller–at best–should say, “Gay marriage?  We already voted on that and set the societal norm.  The gay movement lost. Let’s move on.”

Maybe Miller gets her sense of “right and wrong” from her own heart and mind.  If so, I’d remind her that she’s just one vote among millions.  And why should we listen to her anyway?

Now we come to the irony of her article: She discounts the Bible, and then turns around to appeal to it and make a “religious case.”

On Jesus:

1. Miller’s Logic = “He was single.  So let’s redefine marriage.” A devastating argument, indeed.

2. Christ preached “indifference to family.” This is an absolute falsehood. Christ taught, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.

This is not “indifference.”

Christ did call for a loyalty to Himself that transcends loyalty to family (and appears to be “indifferent” by comparison–Miller is being a literalist on this point…), but Christ never negated the Law of God’s moral intentions: The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.”  (Luke 16:16-18)

3. Christ did not explicitly define marriage as one man and one woman:  Miller is wrong.  Jesus taught, Haven’t you read.. that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female? ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  (Matthew 19:4-6)

Although, Jesus–in his earthly ministry– did not record anything explicit about homosexuality, He categorically confirmed what Moses taught:  John 5:46-47, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?

In all seriousness, Miller’s key debating advantage is that the vast majority of her readers know nothing of the Scriptures.

Also, Jesus would send out men to write the New Testament clearly teaching that homosexuality is wrong.

4.  “
In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified.  Jesus reaches out to everyone especially those on the margins, and brings the whole Christian community into his embrace.”  This statement is misleading and incomplete.

The whole mission of Jesus was stated before His birth:  “You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.

“Let’s talk turkey for a minute.”  The world has a “personal discomfort” with the idea of sin–a discomfort “that transcends theological argument.”

But Jesus came to deliver us from sin. His mission was not one of our 21st century notion of inclusion.  His inclusion was based upon what He would do on the cross and how sinners respond* to the conviction of sin (defined as breaking the Law of God implicitly written on our hearts and explicitly written by Moses).

He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance…(Luke 5:32).”  Whatever anyone says, repentance is not a condoning of sin.  He also said, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem…”

When a person comes into the whole Christian community and into Christ’s embrace, he or she must abandon allegiance to sinful behaviors and be willing for Christ to take away sin’s consequences and its power in his or her life.

The woman at the well responded to Jesus in such a way–as did countless others.

On Paul:

1.  “Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust.”  This statement is simply a caricature of 1 Corinthians 7.  Paul did extol the virtues of singleness.  But the man who also wrote Ephesians 5 would never belittle the value of marriage.  1 Corinthians 7 is set in the context of intense persecution.  Paul said that staying single was better “…because of the present crisis…

Paul did say that it is indeed better to marry than to commit fornication.  Is that so radical?

Miller is being purposefully unfair to Paul’s statements.

2. “Paul was tough on homosexuality.”   Yes he was.

Miller says, “In its entry on ‘Homosexual Practices,’ the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women…”

However, the Bible is its own best dictionary:

Romans 1:26  “…God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

Also:  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 teach the sinfulness of sin and the grace of God toward all sinners who come to Christ, Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

On David and Jonathan:

Miller: “Here, the Bible praises enduring love between men.  What Jonathan and David did or did not do in privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imaginations.” Translation: “This is a useless argument from silence.  This argument slanders two Bible heros, but we’ll take what we can get to promote the thesis.”

I believe that Miller reveals a kind of temporal parochialism in talking like this about David and Jonathan.  The issue of homosexuality is so far away from the Biblical story, that only a 21st century political activist could read it into the story.

Again, I have to ask, “Why does Miller discount the Bible and then appeal to it?”

Normally, one would think, “If the Bible has no authority whatsoever, we shouldn’t refer to it for any ethical reasoning.”

Miller would be more intellectually honest if she simply said, ‘The Bible is nothing.  Listen to me.'”

But her goal isn’t intellectual honesty.  Miller is not seeking truth.  She is using language as a power-tool to advance a cause.

Anyway, there is much more that could be said about this article.  I could talk about the:
  • Cultural Jabs: Miller refers to Ozzy and Harriet, as if traditionalistsreally see them as our ideal.
  • Semantic Insults: Miller refers to Christians who dare to understand the Bible’s plain meaning  as “literalists.”
  • Raw Accusations:  Miller says the Bible “provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites.”
In spite of all their work to remake America in their own image, the “progressive” elements in society are surprised to find themselves defeated–even in California!  The battle for them is not yet a “mop up” operation.   Proposition 8 showed them that they’ll have to go back to the drawing board.   It must be frustrating to have to attack the Bible’s influence in America–again.

So…  Miller’s essay had to be written.  Newsweek had to print it.

They chose the title well:  “The Religious Case for  Gay Marriage.”

It certainly isn’t a Biblical one.

*  Does Jesus display a 21st century political correctness toward all behavior in the following statement?  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  (John 3:14-19)
Dear B…
As I re-read Lisa Miller’s cover essay for Newsweek, I realized that she actually supports Proposition 8 and true/traditional marriage.  I know!  It was quite a revelation to me too.
When I first read her essay, I was making the mistake of reading as a literalist. But this is something Miller says we should never do.
So I re-read the article–not taking her literally at all.
Also, I corrected my mistake by reading her article–not for particular points–but for universal truths:  universal truths that could strengthen the basic building block of society and thus create a stable culture for all peoples, no matter their race or religion.
Reading her article with the correct method, I realized that Lisa Miller actually supports all our endeavors to preserve marriage as one man & one woman.
I hope no one finds out how foolish I was.
I know better now.
You can follow Pastor John Rush’s “tweets” at  http://twitter.com/TennKan.

One comment

  1. I just did a paper on slavery. It was for government class.
    You need to meet Mr. Kip Farrar. He is reformed which is really cool. He gives reading from reformers. He is a pastor here.
    Talk to you later. Hannah
    P.S. Is there a way I can make the print bigger on here.
    I am having trouble reading the blog post.

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